Whereas the status of women is widely held to have improved under President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the actual recognition of their rights seems to depend on many factors including social class and residence (a city or countryside). As a result, a sizeable part of the Syrian female population experiences various forms of discrimination. Women were at the forefront of the 2011 uprising and the ensuing civil war in Syria, thus challenging traditional gender roles prescribed by the patriarchal society.
Syria’s constitution guarantees gender equality, and many women are active in public life, to which their access is not formally restricted. In 2011 a female vice president and three female cabinet ministers were in office and thirty of the 250 members of parliament were women. In addition, the president had two high-ranking female advisors.
“Personal status” laws
However, many provisions of “personal status” laws – governing individual rights in areas such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody – discriminate against women.
Some of these laws mirror Islamic law regardless of whether the individuals concerned are Muslim or not. A divorced mother loses the right to guardianship and physical custody of her sons when they attain the age of 13 and of her daughters at age 15. In addition, the right to alimony may be revoked in some cases.
Inheritance for all citizens except Christians is based on the government’s interpretation of Islamic law. Women are thus usually granted half of the inheritance share of male heirs. Nevertheless, in all communities male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less, but this right is not always respected due to contrary religious customs.
Although women over age 18 have the right to travel without the male relatives’ consent, the latter may request that their travel abroad be prohibited.
Syrian women married to foreigners cannot pass on their citizenship to their spouses or children.
Whereas perpetrators of so-called “honour crimes” are no longer exonerated from responsibility, they may be granted reduced sentences if the crime was committed with “honourable” intent. Moreover, in case of adultery the woman’s punishment is double that of the man.
Violence against women
Rape is a crime subject to 15 years’ imprisonment. Yet, the rapist faces no punishment if he marries the victim. The victim’s family sometimes agrees to such an arrangement to avoid the social stigma associated with rape. If the victim is too young for marriage, the rapist receives a longer prison sentence. The category of spousal rape is unknown to Syrian law.
The law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence and the majority of such cases are not reported for fear of social stigmatisation. It has been reported that when trying to file a report, some abused women were ignored by the police or even subjected to further abuse and sexual harassment. Observers reported that when some abused women tried to file a police report, they were ignored by the police or even subjected to further abuse or sexual harassment.
Sexual harassment is prohibited and various punishments have been foreseen depending on whether the victim is a minor or an adult. Again, many such cases pass unreported and the law is rarely enforced.
Annual Report 2012 / Amnesty international.
World Report 2012: Syria / Human Rights Watch.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011: Syria / U.S. Department of State.
The text is one of the four summaries published on the same day by the Library of the European Parliament. See also:
Women in 2011–2012 reports: Egypt
Women in 2011–2012 reports: Iran
Women in 2011–2012 reports: Tunisia